Interview with ANGELO SANDERS, A&R at Aftermath for The Game (USA No.1) - Dec 19, 2005
“It’s not a prerequisite that you have to have been shot to be an artist on Aftermath,”
… says Angelo Sanders, A&R at Aftermath Entertainment USA. He is Dr. Dre’s right hand man and signed and developed The Game (US No.1) together with him. For this they are awarded No.6 on the World Top 100 A&R Chart of 2005. The complete chart is being released on December 26th.
Read about how Angelo listens to submitted beats, how he works with new artists and producers and what it means to be a “boutique label”.
How come you ended up being Dr. Dre’s right hand man?
Aftermath Entertainment was founded by Dr. Dre in 1996. I was with Babyface for about five years before I got in with Dre in 1998. I started out interning and hit my way up the ranks through dedication and hard work.
What’s it like being so close to the greatest Hip Hop producer of all time?
It’s a hell of an experience. Learning every day, seeing and hearing something new that I’ve never heard, seen or done before. It’s an amazing blessing. Though it’s more of a teacher/student relationship. I bring artists, tracks, samples or ideas for different things to him and he sees how he can implement them.
If he needs somebody to sound like this, or an artist who can do that, or somebody who can put a verse in here, or write something for him… anything… if he needs a keyboard player or if he needs different things, then I come in for that.
Dr. Dre is his own master. He’s been doing this thing for twenty years. There’s not too much that I have to bring in. It’s like bringing a knife into a machinegun fight. “Here Dre, catch you another bullet, take this knife!”
Aftermath has a joint venture with Interscope. How does that work?
It’s a profit-sharing situation. Fifty-fifty. We make the music and they pay for the marketing and distribution. We split the profit.
Why does Aftermath keep to a few releases, instead of expanding and doing loads of releases?
We look at ourselves as more of a boutique label. A lot of these labels put out three or four records a year, but their records only sell maybe gold or platinum at best. We are able to put out releases that sell 2, 3, 4, 10 million albums every time. It’s about quality control.
What’s your policy regarding finding new artists?
You’ve got to be a star already that we can make a superstar. It’s not a prerequisite that you have to have been shot or something like that to be an artist on Aftermath. The thing is just to be different, be unique, and stand out.
To be able to work for Aftermath, does someone have to be a close friend?
I don’t think you have to be, but I think it definitely helps. Friends make better music.
What artists are you currently working with?
I’m finishing up Busta Rhymes. And working on The Game’s second album, on Eve, and on a new artist named Bishop.
You’re based in California, but also work in New York. What are the pros and cons?
I work in Miami as well. Wherever the producer, the vibe or the energy is good. Music is a creative thing. It’s not a precise, logical thing. It’s not like you can say we’re going to do it the same way every time. For some people that works. Some people have to change their environment. It’s a different energy when you’re walking down the street in New York to when you’re walking down Sunset Boulevard or Compton Boulevard.
How did you first learn about The Game?
I’d seen him in a rap conference at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel doing some freestyles. I thought he was dope. D Mack, who already knew Dre, was letting Dre hear the demos, and he had put out a mixtape. The next thing I know he was signed a week later.
D Mack, Dre, and Mike Lynn were involved with the signing.
Why did he choose Aftermath?
It just made sense. He was a Compton rapper. He was different. We saw potential in him that stood out more so than anything else we’ve been seeing in the recent past. And it’s Dr. Dre. Where else is there to go?
Aftermath is a West Coast label and Dre had no West Coast artists. Dre wasn’t breaking West Coast artists at that time, so he figured that was the perfect place for him.
What did he have to prove to get a deal with Aftermath?
He had a lot to prove. But Dre saw it in him. He let him come in and played some of his stuff. And the time was good for him. Dre saw the swagger in him and thought he could do something with him.
What separates him from other musically similar artists?
I don’t really know any other artists that sound like him. There are no other Cali rappers that do gangsta rap that have a New York swagger about them. That comes from him listening to Nas, Wu-Tang Clan, Biggie Smalls and Jay-Z. Other influences that developed his flow a little differently to a lot of these gangsta flow artists you typically hear out here.
How do you work with him?
I bring tracks to the table and coordinate features and ideas. We work on hook ideas, the song and concepts. I bring him a track if he needs something that inspires him to write. I let him write. He gets in the booth and lays it down, and we fine-tune it from there; maybe change a line, change a word… just change the way of saying it and go from there.
Production-wise we’ve got a bunch of hot producers: Dre, Just Blaze tracks, Kanye West, Neptunes, some tracks from Jelly Roll - who's a big West Coast producer - and Sean T.
Who does the track selection?
I sit down with the producers. And I get the beats that I feel would suit Eve, The Game, or Busta, or whoever, and then I give them out. Like the new Busta Rhymes single “Touch It” - Swizz Beatz did that for me for Eve. I didn’t feel it was right for Eve, so I took it and gave it to Busta. That’s the track that they’re releasing now as a street record.
What were the most important factors in breaking The Game?
Being heard everywhere at the same time. Making your presence felt on all sides. Doing everything thing that can be done, from the internet, to mixtapes, to radio. He was out there putting his name out and getting his voice heard. The best thing a rapper can do is self promotion.
What’s the concept of Black Wall Street Records?
Black Wall Street is The Game’s record label. It’s what G-Unit is to 50 Cent, or Shady Records to Eminem.
The name "Black Wall Street" is adopted from the historical black community of Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was all black businesses, black owned. On June 1, 1921 the most affluent all-black communities in America were bombed from the air and burned to the ground.
This is an organization and corporation that is interested in the primary social development and economic advancement of the Hip Hop community.
The Game is shopping his label now. I’m not sure where it’s going to be. It may be on Aftermath or another label.
How do you find new talent?
In different regions you pay attention to local kids that are getting radioplay. Or you hear a record that you might feel is a hit. You might track that record and go down and meet the kid. You see if they’ve got other records, and if they’ve got a deal. See if they are motivated on a major level.
There’s the internet. There’s mixtapes. And going to record stores for independent releases.
What do you look for in an artist?
Originality. Creativity. Appearance. Charisma.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, but usually the material that is really good comes from somebody who has noticed it around the artist’s area. They’re going to pick it up and give it to somebody, and they’re going to give it to somebody who is somebody. It’s rare when I just go to the demo-box and find something hot.
How ready-to-go must artists be before you look at them seriously?
Ideally, you like them to have a few songs ready that you fill in, or at least a momentum going maybe on a single. The best-case scenario is you’re just picking up the project. The worst-case scenario is you hear a voice, a rap, a style, a skill or something and you’ve got to develop it with some tracks and give it some concepts. It just depends. There’s no proper way of doing the job. It’s a kind of feeling. Is he ready? Is he ready to go? Are the songs up to par?
What kind of buzz makes you take note of something?
If you’re getting to play and are performing, selling out local shows in your region. And if you’re branching out of your area doing the same thing, that definitely shows up. I pay attention to people in those markets.
What kind of input do you usually have on the productions?
You tell them what you’re looking for. It could be up-tempos, mids, or some new soulful joints. It could need something that people could dance to. Something along those lines. But you trust the producer to do their job. That’s why you bring him in.
If you were an artist and were offered a record deal, by what means would you go about evaluating the A&R and the label?
A good A&R knows the artist. He knows what inspires them, knows what they like and dislike and when to push them and when to back off. He knows their strengths and weaknesses, knows how to take advantage of their strengths and knows their weaknesses enough to know when to bring in other people to reinforce them. He interacts in the studio. He’s got to be present to know what’s going on, and he gives the direction to the album.
How do you view the current music business climate?
It’s a lot tighter than it was ten years ago, as far as quantities and income and revenues go. But good music wins out. We’re still able to be successful despite the drop in sales and piracy of music on the Internet. It’s about quality control. We don’t put out as many records as some of the other labels.
At the same time the records we do put out are very successful because we put a lot of time and effort into them. We’re making sure that they sound right before they come out. We’re not just looking for a single or a hot record then putting the whole album out where you get six to eight to ten songs that are garbage.
What’s the difference between Hip Hop labels and major labels?
I don’t know any major Hip Hop label other than Def Jam. The indies move faster than the majors. They’re able to get their product out on the streets to specific regions at a greater rate of speed than a major, dealing faster with lines of communication and the distribution process. Independents like Swishahouse, for example, which is focused in Houston - they’re able to flood that whole Texas market with a product before the majors are able to believe and notice what is going on out there.
What kinds of artists would you like too see gain more popularity?
I’m really into MF Doom and Slum Village. Those type of artists. I always say that we get more exposure with Kanye West and Common breaking through and pushing. It hopefully opens up more doors for little brothers getting a little more exposure. Groups like that I feel like should get more light. They’re taking us back to the De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest age. To a little bit of that golden era.
How do you see the future for Hip Hop?
With groups like Black Eyed Peas doing their thing and Kanye West pushing the envelope, Hip Hop will continue to grow and will always be pushing boundaries. It will continue to touch new people. Like with Reggaeton. You’re getting in different cultures and you’re just bringing the world together even more. As long as people like to dance, Hip Hop will be around.
If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?
I would wish we could get the piracy thing under control. I understand a 15-year old kid with a computer and a desire to put together his own mixtape, but it takes away from everything as a whole. It detracts from artist development, and the time needed to put into making good music.
With revenue being so much affected by the internet and piracy, it forces labels to get out mass music, as opposed to dealing with quality. It’s like the drugrunners getting the dope across the border - they send a hundred cars and hope forty or fifty of them cross.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Seeing The Game’s debut record, ‘The Documentary’, come in at No.1. Seeing all that hard work we put in pay off for everyone involved and everyone who contributed. That was real special to me. That was the closest record that I worked on.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years’ time?
Hopefully continuing to make good music. To still be current and relevant. And to have my name always associated with good music, good records and good artists.
What are the future plans for Aftermath?
‘Detox’ is on the horizon, Dre’s new album. That’s the biggest process now. There’s another 50 Cent record, ‘The Massacre’, scheduled for March 8th, 2006. And a future artist that we signed, a new kid called G.A.G.E. out of Philly, who’s got a lot of potential.
Will you continue to be Dre’s right hand man?
Until he cuts me off.
Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman
Next week: World Top 100 A&R Chart 2005
Read On ...
* Interview with The Game manager, Clive Black
* How did unknown rapper Epik get The Game to feature on his mixtape?